Calculating Risk

Laure - Lexington, Virginia
Entered on February 10, 2009
Age Group: 30 - 50
Themes: parenthood
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The police showed up on my porch last week, my fourteen-year-old son, Jake, in tow. He was in trouble again for skateboarding and the police had confiscated his board. Jake’s first interaction with the police happened two summers before, coming home from the skate park. The police pulled up alongside him and told him if they caught him on his board they’d take it away. He was very upset when he told us about it.

At that time, local ordinance prohibited skateboarding on sidewalks in the business district, but not in residential areas. After I complained to the police department about my son’s treatment, the ordinance was changed to cover all areas of the town. Since then, Jake has had repeated run-ins with the police, and was ticketed for skateboarding on the sidewalk in front of our house.

While we won’t pay Jake’s tickets for him, we also will not forbid him to skateboard in our neighborhood. The police have tried to explain to us that skateboarding is dangerous. Of course, Jake has come home with scrapes and bruises and torn clothes. But while we have gotten him to agree not to skateboard in the street, I believe there are some risks worth taking.

Rather than sitting inside parked in front of a television or computer screen, Jake is getting exercise in the fresh air. He takes pride when the hard work he puts in to learning a trick pays off, and calls us to watch him perform it. He videos his friends doing tricks on their boards and shares them with us.

I understand the thrill and the sense of accomplishment he feels. At the age of forty I decided to learn to ride horses. I was ready for a new challenge and riding pushed me, physically and mentally. I had to face my fear of falling, of not being fully in control–an illusion many of us like to maintain.

Since then I have worked hard, moving from trail riding to the jumping ring. Two years ago I was challenged again when, after breaking my wrist in a bad fall, I had to get back in the saddle. Riding has taught me how to be completely present in the moment, because it demands that of us: focus, attention, responsiveness. That is also what Jake is learning on his skateboard.

Of course, he is also learning disobedience. We have insisted he behave respectfully with the police. He has researched the law on skateboarding in other towns and has written a petition to reverse the ordinance. So he is also learning about engaging in civil action.

And yes, he could get hurt, badly hurt. So could I. But there are risks we all face every day: in our kitchens, on the highway. Riding is teaching me to be comfortable with unpredictability. The lessons I learn in the riding ring I bring forward into my life. Because I believe that always playing it safe holds its own hidden dangers.